Joining the ranks of many other Illinois school systems, DuPage High School District 88 did not meet state improvement standards this year under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
But officials say the mandate's methods for tracking achievement do not acknowledge progress at the district's two schools, Addison Trail in Addison and Willowbrook in Villa Park.
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Over the past three years, nearly 80 percent of students overall have improved test scores in both math and reading, along with other achievements such as increased attendance in advanced placement courses, Superintendent Steve Humphrey said.
"I think the state report cards give you a sense of where things are, but you also have to evaluate what does that information mean," Humphrey said.
District 88 tested nearly all its students on the Prairie State Achievement Exam last spring, but only about 46 percent of them met or exceeded state standards in reading, while nearly 47 percent met or exceeded state math standards.
The state's minimum target in both subjects is 85 percent meeting or exceeding standards. This year, according to the state report card on student achievement, about one-third of all schools in Illinois failed to meet that standard.
In District 88, no demographic group met the standards, with white students coming closest at nearly 59 percent in reading, and Asian students coming closest in math at almost 67 percent.
Humphrey said these measures are problematic.
"In this case, the PSAE cards are a combination of the WorkKeys test and the ACT test, but we don't know how they reach the formula that they do," he said. "There's weighting by questions, and we're not sure which questions are weighted which way."
In addition, he said, state report cards are measured on a complicated bell curve that could keep low-scoring students in the bottom ranks even if they made great individual improvements.
"It doesn't test whether or not we got you to be better, but it's trying to use (the results) that way," said Humphrey.
Both District 88 schools have been focusing curriculum on college and career readiness, as well as boosting skills in reading, math and science. But parents have also told officials they want students to receive a well-rounded education that includes a elective opportunities in the arts and extracurricular activities.
Humphries said staff also has been focusing on helping the district's large population of low-income students, which is about 45 percent, through both academic and social programming.
I really think our staff is working hard to help them be a part of the school and overcome some of the difficulties," he said. "When there is low income, the priorities of the family is not always education, but to put food on the table and make sure everything is safe and secure at home."